Zac Jones, Nils Lundkvist battling for Rangers’ last spot

KINGSTON, R.I. — The Rangers’ roster currently sits at 27 and head coach Gerard Gallant has made it known that the lineup is essentially set. The spot next to Patrik Nemeth on the third defensive pairing, however, is still up for grabs, according to Gallant.

Zac Jones is still with the team and gunning for that job.

“I still have confidence in myself and I’m going to make it as hard as I can on the coaching staff to send me down,” Jones said Monday after the Rangers practiced at Boss Ice Arena on the campus of the University of Rhode Island. “That’s why I feel like I’m here right now, I feel like I’ve played well enough to deserve to be here. I’m going to keep playing the way I can play and whatever happens, happens.”

After helping UMass secure the hockey program’s first national championship last season, Jones recorded four assists during a 10-game cameo for the Rangers. Jones said the Rangers wanted him to get stronger this offseason so he could come in to training camp and vie for a spot.

Zac Jones and Nils Lundkvist
Bill Kostroun; Getty Images

Gerard Gallant has been transparent about how the Rangers’ top four defensemen — Adam Fox, Ryan Lindgren, K’Andre Miller and Jacob Trouba — are set in stone. But the coach said he is still evaluating who fits best on the third pair next to Nemeth, particularly between Jones and Nils Lundkvist.

“They’re close, they’re both good, young players,” Gallant said. “They both had good camps. Again, we pretty well know our top five, six guys, but there’s a spot there available and we’ll see what’s going to happen.”

There is a scenario in which the Rangers could send Lundkvist to AHL Hartford to get acclimated to the North American game and keep Jones. Both Jones and Nemeth said Monday that they don’t have a preference for which side they play on, citing experience on the left and right sides.

“I’d take it with a grain of salt,” Jones said of the possibility of starting in Hartford. “But, at the same time, I feel I deserve to play in the NHL. If I get sent down, I’m not going to complain about it, I’m not going to be mad. I’m going to go down there and work as hard as I can to try to get myself back up to the NHL.”

The Rangers did some power-play work for the first time with their trimmed roster.

The first unit featured four righties in Fox, Mika Zibanejad, Ryan Strome and Artemi Panarin, with Chris Kreider at the net-front as the lone left-handed player.

“It’s the first time we really did it and they’re all together,” Gallant said. “Obviously, that could be a unit — good chance it will be — but I’m not going to say that for sure, yet.”

Alexis Lafrenière, Kaapo Kakko, Filip Chytil and Sammy Blais (net-front) skated as the second unit, with Lundkvist and Jacob Trouba rotating at the point.

Greg McKegg cleared waivers on Monday and has been assigned to the Wolf Pack.


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